Friday, February 11, 2011

That Tickles!

I just decided to Google it and it turns out my amazing discovery is well-known enough... Oh well.

So my toddler has a few LeapFrog toys. LeapFrog is cool - I don't really buy that they're stuff is as educational as it's made out to be, and they introduce 'new' non-backwards-compatible lines all too frequently - which matters when, as I do, you buy most of your toddler stuff second-hand.

But if you're paying like $2 at a Value Village, who can complain, right? So we've got this thing called the LeapFrog Alphabet Pal, which is a caterpillar-shaped toy with 26 feet, one for each letter of the alphabet. In different modes, pushing the feet will either have the caterpillar play one of 26 songs, say the colour of the pressed foot, say the name of the letter on the foot, or 'pronounce' the letter. So in one mode it'll say the letter K (i.e. 'kay') and in another, it'll pronounce it (i.e. 'kuh').

What this immediately meant for me was that I could find all the stops and fricatives and make the caterpillar do beatboxing. Yeah, that's how my daughter's daddy's mind thinks. But making it go 'puh... ti... puh puh ti' is endless hours of amusement, if you happen to be a simpleton.

Every now and then I noticed the 'alphabet pal' would ruin the rhythm by giggling and saying 'that tickles'. I didn't know why, but I figured that's just something it does for some reason. Until I noticed that on occasion I could get a cool Daft Punk beat happening for as long as I wanted with no unwanted giggling. I couldn't understand why until I noticed that certain letters would cause it but not others.

Then I noticed certain combinations of letters were the real culprit. For example the rather groovin' ride/hi-hat combo 'fuh.. kuh' got it all giggly. Then I figured out why. I had, after months of playing with this toy, an epiphany: LeapFrog was preventing you from making the caterpillar say naughty words! Then, human nature being what it is, I went and tried out all the verboten words I could think of. Obviously not all naughty words are possible: the '"s" word', for example, relies on the 'sh' fricative, which Alphabet Pal can't say because there's no one letter that makes that sound. But again and again, rough attempts to make Alphabet Pal swear were met with 'that tickles'.

What I think is funny about this toddler-censorship is that I'm quite sure it would never have occurred to me to 'make the toy swear' had I not noticed that the toy was programmed to prevent me from doing that. Only then did I get swear-happy with the toy. And I wonder how many people, toddlers and parents alike, have done the very same thing.

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